Kolkata: When I was in China, among the many things, one major, I noticed was that many people from Japan were doing business with companies of the world’s second-largest economy. They were working in multinational companies and visiting their neighbour as tourists. According to reports, a good number of Chinese students study in Japan. People of both the country even marry each other.
But we also know that Second Sino-Japanese War was the beginning of World War II for the Asian region. The People’s Republic of China states that over 20 million Chinese lost their lives, while the Japanese government claims 3.1 million casualties during WWII. But people of both nations as well as their governments have kept the bad memories behind and are prospering. Only during the war anniversaries, leaders of both countries recall the incidents related to the war, which later disappears from public discourse. In recent times, the ties between China and Japan have strained but it is yet to reflect on people to people contacts or activities.
However, when it comes to India-Pakistan relations, the two countries share a similar tragic past like that of China-Japan, the former’s cordial relation never reached the level as Sino-Japanese remained after WWII. If Kashmir is the bone of contention between Indo-Pak, the East China Sea has a similar position for the Chinese and Japanese governments.
And at a time when India’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led Narendra Modi government is having continuous dialogue with China even after brutal fights at the borders which caused the deaths of many Indian soldiers as well. Also China’s intrusion in India’s border areas, the question remains, why India could not talk with Pakistan, as it does with China?
Exploring this, a book — In Pursuit of Peace: Improving Indo-Pak Relations, edited by OP Shah has been published recently. The book has fifty write-ups by prominent voices of India, Pakistan as well as Jammu & Kashmir.
OP Shah, the founder and chairman of the Centre for Peace & Progress in the last three decades has taken several initiatives to enhance ties between the two neighbours– India and Pakistan.
The book is an attempt to collate the opinion of his contacts within India and across the border, on how to improve the relationship between the countries and their people can live so that the nations can prosper peacefully.
The prologue is written by former vice-president of India Hamid Ansari, who writes that a normal relationship of newly created neighbours has gradually transmuted into a shapeless entity that goes beyond known cases of war and the cold war. And mentions, sanity and good sense urge us to rectify it, build on commonalities and live up to the standard of civility and international conduct to which both notionally subscribe.
While most writers opine the need for dialogue, as it is the only way forward, be it through back-channel talk, the role of civil society, people-to-people contact, India-Pakistan cricket matches, cultural activities between the artists of two countries, lessening armies in Kashmir and easing VISA rules. Some Pakistani writers have also mentioned that given the present status between India-Pakistan relations, there is a need for a third party (country) to intervene. Few have also mentioned Sri Lanka and Nepal being the perfect neutral space where diplomats can meet and talk.
Several pointed out that it is because of the Kashmir issue, the abrogation of Article 370, as well as 35A the relation and now Taliban’s take over in Afghanistan that has further worsened the situation between the two neighbours.
But on one point, most writers seem unanimous that media of both the countries need to play a constructive role rather than being hyper-nationalist for respective countries and should not only follow government agendas when it comes to better ties between the two countries.
Mani Shankar Aiyar in his piece— Uninterrupted and Uninterruptible, claims that the last thing Indo-Pak relations require is dramatic gestures. He also mentioned that even after two initiatives, the last seven years of the India-Pakistan relationship have been barren.
There are many thought-provoking articles in the book including Sudheendra Kulkarni who has written a hard-hitting piece, short but incisive one by ex-RAW chief AS Daulat, peace activists L Ramdas and Lalita Ramdas stress to put own house in order, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Abdul Basit, Pakistani editor Anis Haroon, who visited India and have very interesting personal experience of visa norms.
But former governor Tripura and BJP leader Tathagatha Roy ruled out the possibility of the relationship between the two classes being bettered and have termed it ‘wishful thinking.’ The senior BJP cited several reasons for it and one of them was the belief of Pakistanis in Ghazwa-e-Hind.
Ghazwa-e-Hind has been misinterpreted wrongly and it has been well described in an article by senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai. But from Pakistan to India, it has been used by vested interest people to either attract people against India or to create fear in Hindus against Muslims and Pakistan.
The former governor also asserted that there is only one solution to Indo-Pak ties, and that is to have it resolved militarily.
It also includes letters from politicians like Congress’ Salman Khurshid, NC’s Farooque Abdullah, CPM Mohamad Yousuf Tarigami, BJP’s Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo and Tathagata Roy, former PM AB Vajpai’s aide Sudheendra Kulkarni, journalist Hamid Mir, Balbir Punj, Santosh Bhartiya and Ved Prasad Vedik, national vice-president of JIH Professor Saleem Engineer, former ambassadors Abdul Basit, General Talat Masood diplomats Iqbal Ahmad Khan from both the countries. All these make the book a must-read for every Indian who wants to know about the past, present and what could be the way forward of Indo-Pak relations.
Though the opinion of authors arranged in the alphabetical order, the former external affairs minister of India and now TMC leader Yashwant Sinha’s ending of the book with the last chapter of his piece seems the most perfect way to conclude the topic: “We need to recognize that we tend to be prisoners of our past in our dealings. Though the generation that suffered through the Partition is largely gone, the trauma of the Partition lives in our minds. Many in Pakistan believe that Pakistan should have gotten more than they did and that Bangladesh should have never happened (or never should have been allowed to happen). Similarly, in India, many feel that Partition should have never taken place. Unfortunately, it seems that for many on the Indian subcontinent to experience long-lasting peace and tranquility, we need to accept and reconcile ourselves to what happened in the past and strive to abandon our inherited fears, insecurities, prejudices and biases. A new chapter calls for a new approach,” it reads.